I remember sitting down to write my first blog the day I moved here. It was catharsis, a way of coping with the enormity of my life situation and an unknown future. I sit here a year (well, 14 months) later, having not written my blog in nearly as long, and a somewhat seasoned veteran of the city I call home. It seems strange reading back how foreign London was to me. It started as this impenetrable metropolis, where only the rich, career-driven or starving artists could live with not much room for the rest of us normal folks. I wasn't here to work in finance or chase some music dream, my dream was only to experience the day-to-day of a city I've loved since I first visited as a little girl.
I eventually stopped writing my blog, because that real life I was searching for took over and there was no need to try to make sense of it anymore. But I think it's time to revisit it and so I've compiled a list of a few things I have learned about London, life and myself over the past year (be warned, this list will be a mix of trivial observations and some deeper feelings).
- Everyone gets a 'tube face'. You will try to fight it but eventually you will succumb. It is inevitable. Sorry.
- The best coffee in the UK is here and right on my doorstep. Costa? Starbucks? Ugh, no thanks. Why have that rubbish when I can get Monmouth, Caravan, Prufrock, and Black Sheep? Non-Londoners will call it smug London superiority, but we all know it's the truth.
- The North/South divide is a real thing and it suddenly matters. When I first moved here I was determined to travel all over. After all, it's one city right? Yeah...not so much. Now you can often hear my shocked exclamation of, “I have to go SOUTH of the river?!” Heck, going past the West End is an issue in itself. My life is mostly a nice little square of Islington-Farringdon-Kings Cross-Dalston.
- You will quickly learn to avoid Central on a Saturday. It's just not worth your sanity.
- Everyone told me London is expensive. I already knew London was going to be expensive before I moved. It's true, London is expensive. It doesn't make it not worth it or make me want to move somewhere cheaper though. I have also rapidly got used to the price of rent and food so that when I do go home, I exclaim how cheap everything is. I've become one of 'those' people.
- Deliveroo will become a way of life. And you may even on one occasion use Uber Eats to get McDonalds delivered. You will feel ashamed, but also defiant.
- Although I'm used to living here and it's often very routine and mundane, I sometimes still find myself getting wide-eyed country girl look when I walk by the Thames and see the world-famous views. It truly is a stunning city.
- My extroverted side has been unleashed a lot more since I moved here. I always considered myself an introvert, although now I think maybe it's pretty even. An ambivert, if you will. I often find myself getting energised by parties rather than tired.
- Because I knew very few people when I came here, I had to push myself into social situations where I didn't know anyone and basically force myself to talk to strangers. This helped my confidence tremendously, but I also remember how exhausting it was. It's still something I'm not hugely comfortable with, but I'm better at it than I was (or perhaps better at faking it).
- London has a million fun, exciting things to do and it's tempting to try all of them. I'm having to learn when to say yes and when to say no – it's still a struggle. I often find myself getting sad when I don't have any weekend plans although I know I need that time to refuel, especially after a busy week.
- I often find myself morphing into one of those 'London is where life is' people, as if such life doesn't or can't exist outside the city. I hate that I do it and I don't mean to but it's quite easy to get swept up in it all.
- Loving where you live is so important. You will spend more time there than anticipated and if you hate it, life will be difficult. I'm pretty lucky that I love Highbury. It's got loads of pubs, restaurants, great transport links and is in walking distance of three (three!) beautiful parks. Oh yeah, parks are VERY important when you have no garden.
- I am so grateful for all the wonderful friends I have made. People I didn't even know a year ago are now so dear to me I can't imagine not having them in my life.
The serious stuff
- For a city of 8 million people, London can be be very isolating. I remember the feelings of loneliness I had in the first few months after my move and how difficult it was to overcome the thinking that it might never change. I was meeting lots of people but didn't really know them and there was no quick fix for that. I just had to ride it out, trust God and understand that this too would pass. It has, a long time ago in case you're wondering.
- Having a community around you is essential. Getting plugged into a church was one of the major factors that helped me feel settled, more than a job or a long term housing situation. It wasn't like I had an instant group of friends - friendships take time to cultivate - but it was a place of like-minded people my age that had the potential for something more. And I luckily stumbled upon a church (KXC) that I can call home and that has given me that sense of community. I have a strong dislike of cliques and I want to make sure that no one I come across ever feels that they are unwelcome or unwanted. I want everyone who comes through the doors to feel that sense of community and welcome that I felt when I first went there.
- I've spent a year enjoying all London has to offer, but I don't want to just consume, I want to give back. I want there to be a reason I'm in London. I love having fun but I don't want that to be the only thing that I take away. I want to make a difference in this beautiful, broken city.
- It's very easy to fall into the trap of comparison, especially in such a frenetic and competitive city. I admit to measuring myself against others when it comes to careers, finance, looks, hobbies and social life and coming up short. It's something I've been wrestling with a lot over this year and something I'm actively trying to avoid, but I can't confess to having the all answers. I suspect that it's not just me that feels this way, though, and that it's a symptom of a society obsessed with appearances, where status is everything.
- I've recently been trying to decipher the difference between happiness and contentment. Is happiness a state of being or is it transient? I've been asked time and again whether I'm happy, whether moving to London was all I thought it would be. I guess the answer to that is yes, and no. Life has its ups and downs, like all lives do, and some days I'm on top of the world and beaming from ear to ear, loving life and everyone in it. And some days, the tube is crowded and work has sucked and I have an achy back from my terrible mattress and life isn't all shiny. But when I stop to think about it - and really take stock of my life - I may not always be happy in the emotional sense, but I'm satisfied. I am content.
Looking back on my past blogs, it all seems so silly that I was afraid that it might not work out. Of course God had it under control, of course He was there all along. But in a way, my future is still unknown and uncertain. Sure, I'm living here - but now what? I guess I'll have to find out along the way and then look back at this blog post with an AHA moment in a year's time. All I know is, for the foreseeable future, I'm right where I want to be.